So you are considering to get yourself one of the most advanced consumer technology devices currently on the market? Good choice! Drones, or quadcopters as they are also known, is one of the fastest growing hobbies in the world and there are even racing leagues (FPV Drone Racing) that is set to rival the popularity of Formula 1 in the coming years. True story, check this out.
Before we look at the products, let’s cover the fundamentals in a little bit more detail. We’ll be posting more articles on each of these topics in the future but consider this your crash-course in piloting a drone. Bad choice of words I know, but we’ll also show you how to best avoid such an incident.
Because drones can easily fly far and high, they are more dangerous than your average remote controlled vehicle. They also occupy the same airspace as helicopters, planes, and tall buildings, so there are some very important rules and guidelines to follow before you take-off.
Another very important topic is the law around flying your drone. Flying recreationally and flying for financial gain are two very different things. Should you wish to make money by shooting video or photos with your new drone, there is a very lengthy and costly procedure to follow. We’ll cover this topic in detail soon, but start reading the information on the SACAA website so long.
I also suggest you join a few Facebook groups and become part of an educated and informed community. We recommend SA Drones and Drones South Africa. If you want to follow the FPV Racing Community in South Africa, follow Drone Racing Africa. These are awesome support forums and they will help you greatly in your new found adventure. Okay, let’s get to the important parts.
What you can and can’t do
As I mentioned before, there are very specific rules that govern how and where you are allowed to fly your drone. This article won’t cover the needs required if you want to make money with your aerial photos or video. We’ll be looking at recreational flying and the laws that you’ll need to know about. This article is aimed at South African quad flyers so check the law in your country, or the country you are travelling to before flying your drone. This is very important in any situation.
First up, you do not need a license to fly your drone for fun, or to create photos and video for non-commercial use.
According to the South African Civil Aviation Authority, you are not allowed to fly 10km or closer, to any airport, helipad, or airfield. You can check out a very cool No Fly Zone map over here. But don’t rely solely on this map, always check your surroundings and the environment you wish to fly in, carefully.
There are also numerous no-fly zones in which you are not allowed to fly. In some cases, special permission may be obtained by licensed operators to fly in these areas.
No-fly zones include all National Parks in South Africa. So don’t take your drone to the Kruger National Park. You are also not allowed to fly on or near Table Mountain – take note. Aeronautical charts also indicate prohibited (FAP), restricted (FAR) and danger areas (FAD) where you should not be flying. Other, obvious places, you are not allowed to fly close to include prisons, police stations, crime scenes and national key points.
You are also not allowed to fly near manned aircraft or closer than 50m to people, roads or buildings. Flying in urban areas is a big no-no and you must resist the urge to fly over your house or neighbourhood. Even flying in public parks should be avoided.
You are allowed to fly up to the height of highest object within 300m of the quad but not higher than 120m or more than 500m away from you. And it is very, very important to maintain a line of sight with your drone at all times.
No matter where you fly, it is also a good idea to get permission from the property owner before you take off.
Golden rule: Don’t be a dumbass.
Flying your quad can be the most rewarding experience but this privilege should not be taken for granted. Always be aware of your surroundings, make sure there are no overhead power cables or trees that could prove problematic.
If you are always cautious and follow these guidelines, you’ll have the most fun you’ve ever had.
Be a responsible quad pilot.
Which DJI to buy?
There are four main models in the DJI range. Starting with the brand new DJI Spark, this compact drone is aimed at beginners or first-time drone pilots. The DJI Mavic is ideal for adventurers thanks to its ultra-portable design while the Phantom 4 series is aimed at more advanced pilots who want to take their aerial shots to the next level. Then, for serious pilots, there is the super sexy and high-end DJI Inspire 2 aimed at cinematographers. We’ll cover this model in detail in another article.
You’ll also notice that with both the Spark and Mavic, there is a drone-only version available. This version comes without a radio controller. By using your smartphone to control the drone, you sacrifice control agility and range. This is because your phone connects to the drone using Wi-Fi and not radio frequency when using the controller.
The latest drone in the DJI line-up is the tiny and light-weight DJI Spark. This entry-level drone features everything a beginner pilot needs to take great photos and video without too much fuss. There are two models available, the base version, simply called Spark, and the Spark Fly More Combo. The latter includes a DJI remote controller. For the base version, you can use your phone to control the drone.
One of the best features of the DJI Spark is its gesture control capabilities. This means with a few gestures aimed at the drone (no not those type of gestures) you can get it to fly in any direction and take photos or video without needing a controller. This is great for using the Spark as a camera to capture outdoor adventures with friends or family.
Apart from its size, the biggest differentiator between this and the other drones in the DJI line-up is its gimbal. The Spark offers a 2-Axis gimbal which means that the yaw is not stabilised. For its intended audience, this should not be a deal breaker.
In terms of video and photo quality, the Spark delivers a respectable 1080p at 30fps while it can shoot a 12mp still image. Impressively it comes with a built-in time-lapse feature allowing you to create superb time-lapse shots too. For holiday and outdoor video, the Spark is more than adequate to capture awesome shots.
The Spark will give you a flight time of around 15 minutes and it features a sports mode that will see it reach speeds of up to 50kph. Using the radio controller, the Spark can fly up to 2km at a height of 500m.
The Mavic is one of the most versatile drones currently available. Not only does it fold away into a neat little portable device but it can shoot video at 4k (at 30fps), has a 3-axis gimbal and can fly for around 25 minutes.
It also boasts 5 forward and downward vision sensors that will avoid obstacles during flight. Should you want to shoot in slow-motion, the 1080p at 60fps will come in handy. From a technical video point of view, the Mavic can capture video at 60Mps which gives much less bandwidth for high-end video editing and colour grading than the Phantom 4 range. Don’t worry too much about this specification if you are not shooting for television broadcast.
The Mavic is aimed at drone enthusiasts and will not disappoint. Indeed, the best drone at any given moment is the one you have with you, and carrying this one on a hiking trip is much easier than the bulky Phantom 4. This is an important factor to keep in mind if you are an adventurer. The Mavic can also be piloted directly from your phone, without the controller – this does limit range and movement but it is handy for quick launch photos or video.
The Mavic can take 12mp photographs and produce JPEG or raw DNG images, excellent news if you are a photographer. Interestingly, the Mavic also supports dual controllers so that one person pilots the drone while the other can operate the camera.
In terms of agility, the Mavic is a pleasure to pilot. It can reach a top speed 65Km/h in sports mode which means you can track and manoeuvre around your subjects without too much effort. With the controller, the Mavic can reach distances of up to 7km and reach a DJI limited height of 500m.
DJI Phantom 4 Range
The DJI Phantom has been the signature drone in the DJI lineup since it first hit shelves in 2013. There are three models in the Phantom 4 range, the Standard, Advanced and Pro versions. The Phantom 4 Standard features lower imaging specifications than the Advanced and Pro both of which sport a 1-inch CMOS sensor. Having said that, the Phantom 4 Standard is almost R10k cheaper. This sensor pushes up the megapixel rating from 12MP to 20mp on the Advanced and Pro versions.
Photo and video buffs will appreciate the massive difference this makes to aerial photography. The Advanced and Pro also feature a new autofocus lens, this time with a variable aperture ranging f/2.8 to f/11 with a video bitrate of 100Mps – this greatly improves your headroom when colour grading your shots.
And if video codecs are your thing, you’ll be glad to hear that this new camera now supports H.265 encoding. This new codec significantly improves the streaming efficiency and encoding of video. In layman’s terms, it means that video looks better in post-production and streams more efficiently to your screen. This is particularly important for 4k video which incredibly resource intensive. If that made sense to you, here is a more detailed explanation of H.265 in technical terms.
The Phantom Pro also features more anti-collision sensors in comparison to the Advance and can switch to the higher 5.8GHz radio frequency that delivers better range and signal quality in areas when there is too much external interference.
You can expect a battery life of around 25 minutes for the Phantom 4 Range. While you are giving up portability, you are taking a massive leap in video and photo quality. It can also reach speeds of up to 72KM/h in sports mode. Flight distance range from 5km on the Phantom 4 Standard, up to 7km with the Advanced and Pro versions. The maximum altitude is limited to 500m. – (c) 2017 NavWorld